Poor Jyotiraditya. I genuinely feel for him. It cannot be easy to be a Scindia in the India of 2020, heir to a royal lineage going back over 250 years which at its height included conquering Delhi and installing the Mughal Emperor of its choice. It took the military genius of Arthur Wellesley, the future Duke of Wellington, to bring the House of Scindia to heel. Of course, they infamously remained loyal to the Company in 1857 and lost Gwalior to Rani Lakshmibai and Tantia Tope, with the Maharaja fleeing in dishonour for protection to Agra. But in such a long-lasting dynasty, there is bound to be a disappointing Jayajirao or two for every Mahadaji. Kipling immortalised the Scindia name with his poem ‘With Scindia to Delhi’, romanticizing Scindia valour during the bloodbath of the Third Battle of Panipat when Abdali’s hordes overran the combined forces of the Maratha Confederacy. Good and bad, it is a mighty legacy and it was important I summarised and contextualised it before getting to the more contemporary and relatively mundane predicament of the Scindia of our age.
The erstwhile royals of India are not like you and I, to paraphrase Scott Fitzgerald, they are different. They have made their peace with a democratic India, of course; however, they are still steeped from birth in the myth of their glorious royal past. Imagine being brought up as the Scindia scion amongst the magnificent forts and palaces of Gwalior in addition to the adoration of the masses. This adoration seemed to always be good enough for electoral victories in the parliamentary constituencies of Gwalior or Guna, even in tough elections like 1996 or 2014, but the titular Maharaja losing to a commoner seemed improbable if not impossible. That is, until 2019, when Jyotiraditya fell prey to the Modi Wave and was unseated in Guna. Admittedly part of the reason could be his being deputed on a fool’s errand by the Gandhi family to oversee the campaign in western Uttar Pradesh. Indignity followed indignity when soon after the election, he was evicted from his Lutyens’ Delhi bungalow on Safdarjung Road, his family’s Delhi residence of decades, and most importantly, his father’s residence. The Scindias who once lorded over the Mughal throne of Delhi now had to scurry around at the last-minute looking for alternative temporary accommodation. What a mighty fall indeed.
Meanwhile, back in Madhya Pradesh, his bêtes noires, inherited from his father like everything else, Kamal Nath and Digvijay Singh, made common cause in cutting him to size little by little, neither rehabilitating him after his defeat nor sharing the spoils of power. Chief Minister Kamal Nath was openly dismissive of any threat from Scindia. Gandhi, mother and son, refused to intervene in any decisive way with Sonia Gandhi professing that she was only a caretaker President, hoping her errant son would return magically transformed into the avatar of a higher political life form. Rahul himself has seemed happy to watch as those dynasts closest to him get picked off one by one by the Old Guard. After me, the deluge, seems to be Mr Gandhi’s motto nowadays.
The last straw was the apparent denial of a nomination from Madhya Pradesh in the upcoming Rajya Sabha elections. Scindia honour could not brook these rebuffs anymore, a crossroads had arrived. On the other side of the moat awaited Modi and Shah with open arms. They finally had their prize, the Maharaja of Scindia, a great Hindu royal and political dynasty now aligned with Moditva. Madhavrao, the father, had treated the BJP with unconcealed contempt, partly because of his dispute with the Rajmata and partly because of his closeness to the Gandhi brothers, but now the son and heir had finally succumbed to their overtures. It is a major victory for the Sangh Parivaar in legitimizing their saffronized historical narrative of where India came from and where it is going.
Jyotiraditya Scindia inherited his father’s Rolex watch and the Scindia jowls, also a complete rhetorical fluency in both Hindi and English that few can match. Like his father, he was trained for power by the House of Scindia and the arrogance that comes with being called a Maharaja. However, he lacks his father’s personality, the twinkle in-the-eye charisma and presence that is remembered by many even still. He did learn from his father’s mistakes, the failed attempt to launch a third party in the bipolar polity of Madhya Pradesh in 1996, and probably this is reflected in his choice to join the BJP instead of launching an independent outfit like some expected. He also has better timing than his father, of which the resignation of 20-odd MLAs alongside him is clear enough evidence. In fairness, he did have the Modi-Shah machine to give more than a helping hand.
Having died before reaching his political zenith, there have always been many what-if scenarios proposed of where Madhavrao Scindia’s path would have taken him. Some postulate Sonia Gandhi would have chosen him as the Prime Minister in 2004; others insist he would have ultimately gotten over his distaste for the BJP and become Vajpayee’s heir. In any case, the son has definitively set out on the path his father never took and it will be interesting to see where this Scindia ultimately ends up now that there is no Gandhi yuvraj holding him back. Modi’s heir, perhaps?
(Krishan Partap Singh is a novelist and political commentator.)
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